10/29/13 — Group aims to help veterans

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Group aims to help veterans

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on October 29, 2013 1:46 PM

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Johnathan and Gina Fehrenback hold an Operation Second Chance banner in front of the black Hummer that can be seen around Goldsboro. The couple are volunteers with the organization, which aims to help injured and sick veterans.

A small nonprofit group with a mission to help heal America's war wounded is working locally to ease the transition from battlefield to homefield.

Operation Second Chance was formed in 2004 to assist wounded, injured and ill combat veterans and their families.

The group's mission is much like that of the Wounded Warrior Project, but on an admittedly much smaller scale. It is dependent entirely on donations.

Johnathan and Gina Fehrenback are the state representatives for the group, which was first formed in 2004 by Cindy McGrew. They joined the national organization last year.

Johnathan is a former Marine who was seriously injured by an IED in Iraq. He said he remembers the difficulties he went through trying to cope with the injury and make a transition back to civilian life at the same time.

Operation Second Chance was there to help him, he said, and now he wants to return the favor. Gina, who is a Goldsboro native, has dedicated herself to the same cause.

The organization attempts to help disabled veterans in a number of ways. It pays bills, including mortgage payments -- more than $1.3 million worth to date. It builds ramps if veterans need handicapped access. Or it may purchase a needed airline ticket for a trip home.

It also does what it can to help those who are suffering from mental or emotional strain, offering not only a sympathetic ear but a real getaway -- from a retreat in the Montana mountains to a fishing trip to a location closer by.

"It gets you to forget about the hospital, the medicines, the doctors ... and live in the now. It helps you wake up parts of you you thought were dead," Johnathan said.

He compared the depression he went through returning home after combat to entering a dark room.

"You think you can't be the same person," he said. "You don't know how to get back to where you were."

He said the government is only able to do so much to help.

"They do the best they can, but ...."

The couple can be seen around Goldsboro in the group's decorated black Hummer.

"Our goal is to get the word out, so we can help as many different veterans as we can," Gina said.

The group got a boost recently when Patriot Arms & Services gunshop on Buck Swamp Road allowed the Fehrenbacks to take part in a grand opening, giving them a chance to hand out fliers and answer questions about Operation Second Chance.

"It showed me a lot of people are interested," Johnathan said.

"We've gotten donations from a lot of people," Gina added.

The organization might be small, the Fehrenbacks admit. But its goals are big.

"We want to be able to expand and do more," Johnathan said. "We have people who need help and this allows us to do that."

Tax-deductible donations to Operation Second Chance can be made online by going to www.operationsecondchance.org/donate or by mailing a check payable to Operation Second Chance, Morgan Stanley, 702 King Farm Blvd., Suite 500, Rockville, MD 20850.

The mission of Operation Second Chance is personal, Johnathan said.

"What it means to me ... I've already lost several friends in Iraq and others to suicide," he said. "This is a way of getting connected with other veterans. It's a real second chance. It's a sense of awakening. It's going to save lives."